Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photos: Hobbs & Shaw (Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures); Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Wilson Webb/Annapurna Pictures); Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (George Kraychyk/CBS Films and Lionsgate)

Hobbs, Shaw, and some festival favorites vie for your attention during the dog days of August

Photos: Hobbs & Shaw (Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures); Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Wilson Webb/Annapurna Pictures); Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (George Kraychyk/CBS Films and Lionsgate)

So many movies, so little time. Every week brings a new crop of them, opening in multiplexes and arthouse theaters across the nation, and arriving in increasingly high volumes on streaming platforms like Netflix. How’s a voracious moviegoer to keep up? That’s where The A.V. Club comes in. The first week of every month, we’ll be previewing all the major movies coming to theaters (or laptops or gaming systems or Rokus) near you, helping narrow down these upcoming releases by making educated guesses on whether they’re worth your time and money.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Theaters everywhere August 2

The Fast & Furious franchise has long since outgrown its humble origins in illegal street racing, maturing into a globe-spanning franchise about all manner of illicit things moving both quickly and angrily. That scope expands with this first official spinoff, which breaks away from Dominic Toretto’s crew and its attendant candy-asses to focus on Dwayne Johnson’s loose-cannon lawman Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s black-ops mercenary Deckard Shaw, bitter frenemies who must forge another uneasy alliance to bring down a cybernetically enhanced terrorist (Idris Elba) who’s intent on unleashing a biological weapon that could wipe out half of humanity. Along for their surly, surely outlandish ride is Vanessa Kirby’s similarly rogue MI6 agent, who also happens to be Shaw’s sister.
Will it be worth your time? Though it starts strong (and fun), Hobbs & Shaw turns out to be not just the goofiest but also one of the least exciting entries in this over-the-top series. However much The Rock and Vin Diesel butted heads, there’s no denying that the full F&F family-with-a-capital-F is missed here. And David Leitch, of John Wick and Deadpool 2 fame, fails to orchestrate any truly spectacular action sequences.

The Nightingale

Select theaters August 2

Don’t expect any impeccably dressed storybook bogeymen in the second feature from Babadook director Jennifer Kent. She’s followed that spooky sleeper with a much different (and even more harrowing) kind of horror film starring the monster of grief: a starkly brutal Aussie Western about an Irish convict (Aisling Franciosi) hunting the British soldiers who shattered her whole world. Leading the way through the unforgiving bush is an Aboriginal tracker (Baykali Ganambarr) nursing his own bone-deep grudge against the colonialist invaders. Sam Claflin, of Hunger Games fame, plays the abhorrent lieutenant, raping and pillaging across the unforgiving Australian wilderness of 1825.
Will it be worth your time? The Nightingale is not an easy sit. Its violence, much of it sexual in nature, is extreme and ceaseless. But there’s a hard-won power to Kent’s vision of two lost souls, both brutalized by immoral men, finding solidarity in their mutual rage and sorrow. This is a major film, rewarding those who can stomach its horrors.


Select theaters August 2

In the movie business, you’re only as good as your last picture. But at Sundance this year, director Julius Onah came roaring back from the drubbing his Netflix Cloverfield sequel took, fashioning a chilling drama about identity, resentment, and stereotypes. Based on the play by J.C. Lee, Luce traces the conflict that develops between a star student (Kelvin Harrison Jr., from It Comes At Night) and the teacher (Octavia Spencer) who finds something disturbing in his locker. For the full Funny Games effect, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth play the kid’s parents, who adopted him from a war zone when he was a child.
Will it be worth your time? Although it occasionally betrays its theatrical roots (there are some speeches in this movie), Luce is gripping and suspenseful, recalling the work of not just Michael Haneke but also, through its web of deceptions, the great Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. And Harrison delivers one of the great performances of the year as a code-switching overachiever with mysterious motives.

Them That Follow

Select theaters August 2

The isolated world of Pentecostal snake handlers gets a rare onscreen airing in Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage’s debut feature about a deeply isolated Appalachian community threatened by secrets—and snake bites. Alice Englert stars as Mara, the devoted daughter of a preacher played by Walton Goggins; after striking up a covert relationship with a skeptical young man, Mara finds her previously unshakable faith tested in ways that can only be resolved through divine (and/or reptilian) intervention.
Will it be worth your time? The cast of Them That Follow is stacked with exciting names—Olivia Colman, fresh off of her Oscar win for The Favourite, as a devoted sect member who calls herself Sister Slaughter; Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever as Mara’s timid best friend—so it’s unfortunate that the film, while well acted, never really gets below the surface of this fascinating subculture.

La Flor

Select theaters August 2

There’s never been a movie quite like La Flor. Clocking in at over 13 hours, this ambitious, genre-hopping narrative experiment is a six-part anthology of incomplete stories (all starring the same four actors in different roles) that includes a classic B-movie, an epic-length spy film, and a remake of Jean Renoir’s unfinished A Day In The Country. The project was a true labor of love for the Argentine writer-director Mariano Llinás and his core cast, who began filming the first episode back in 2009.
Will it be worth your time? With a running time that exceeds most seasons of scripted TV, La Flor (The Flower, a reference to the project’s unusual structure) is one of the longest narrative films ever made—and probably the longest to have ever played in American theaters as a new release. But while 868 minutes (screened in four parts, each with their own intermissions) is a daunting time commitment, the “experience” is more fun than you might guess, even if some of the later episodes don’t feel as relevant as the earlier ones.

Madness In The Method

Select theaters and VOD August 2

Chances are, if you’re aware of Jason Mewes at all, you know him as one half of the long-running comic duo Jay and Silent Bob, a fixture in the films of Mewes’ “hetero life-mate” Kevin Smith, as well as select episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation. It must be tough for an actor so closely identified with his character to get other work, which is exactly the subject of Madness In The Method, Mewes’ feature directing debut. Here he actually plays himself (alongside Smith, also playing himself), grousing about typecasting until he’s drawn into a mind-altering acting technique, and possibly some criminal activities to boot. Joining two stars who never really expected to be actors are fellow unexpected thespians Gina Carano, Danny Trejo, and Vinnie Jones. (The movie also appears to boast Stan Lee’s final on-screen cameo—take that, MCU!)
Will it be worth your time? Even for a View Askew-adjacent production, Madness is pretty low-rent, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but the most diehard Smith/Mewes fans bothering with what looks like a stopgap solution to Jay and Silent Bob withdrawal now that the (relatively) starrier and sillier-looking Jay And Silent Bob Reboot is scheduled for an October release.

The Kitchen

Theaters everywhere August 9

Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy, and Elisabeth Moss walk into a bar and proceed to take over the place in this gritty debut crime thriller from director Andrea Berloff. Based on the Vertigo comics series of the same name, The Kitchen is set in 1970s Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen, specifically) and follows three women, all married to Irish mobsters, who assume control of their husbands’ operations after the guys land themselves in the clink. Struggling to pay rent with the stipends paid to them by “the family,” the women band together to make some real money—and make some real enemies as they do so.
Will it be worth your time? Widows failed—quite inexplicably, in The A.V. Club’s estimation—to capture the imaginations of the American moviegoing public at large. So it’s difficult to say if this film, which has a similar premise and similar level of star power, will take off, either. McCarthy proved her ability to move between comedic and dramatic acting in last year’s Will You Ever Forgive Me?; if Haddish is able to pull off a similar feat, that could very well propel The Kitchen past its thematically related predecessor.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Theaters everywhere August 9

If you grew up in the ’80s or ’90s, you may have haunting memories of Alvin Schwartz’s macabre short story collections, whose plainly retold urban legends and truly horrific Stephen Gammell artwork spooked the shit out of a generation of adolescents. Now those classic campfire tales are getting the Goosebumps-movie treatment, in a PG-13 chiller about a group of 1960s teenagers who venture into a mansion on the wrong side of town and end up unleashing a gallery of monsters after unwisely reading from a dead girl’s diary.
Will it be worth your time? An anthology film might have been the more sensible approach to the material. But unlike the Goosebumps film, this adaptation could live up to its title and actually scare some kids. It’s been directed, after all, by an actual horror guy (André Øvredal, who made The Autopsy Of Jane Doe), from a script co-written by that most high-profile of monster lovers, Guillermo Del Toro. And the ghouls themselves look creepy enough, even if none of them quite match the dreadful, nightmare-inducing power of Gammell’s original pictures.

Dora And The Lost City Of Gold

Theaters everywhere August 9

It’s not entirely clear who, exactly, a “self-aware,” teen-focused cinematic reboot of Dora The Explorer is actually for. Vengeful parents extracting years of pent-up aggression grounded in exposure to chipper children’s entertainment? Teenagers immune to the mocking scorn of their peers? And yet here we are, with James Bobin (The Muppets) directing Sicario sequel star Isabela Moner as the adolescent version of everyone’s favorite childhood cartography nerd. By all (extremely strange) accounts, Dora is half fish-out-of-water tale, half fish-goes-back-into-the-water-but-whoops-it’s-actually-quicksand story, as the plot tracks Dora’s transition to an inner-city high school, and then back out into the jungle when her parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria, just two of several ringers on board here) go missing.
Will it be worth our time? Fans of meta comedy (or Eugenio Derbez) might find something to enjoy, but they’ll be sitting through a lot of fart jokes to get to it. Or to put it more bluntly: While City Of Gold looks strange—this is a film in which armed mercenaries attempt to capture or murder Dora The Explorer, and where Moner’s old co-star Benicio del Toro voices Swiper, the theft-happy fox—it still might not be strange enough to maintain more than a passing interest from even the most intrepid explorers of mainstream PG weirdness.

The Art Of Racing In The Rain

Theaters everywhere August 9

America’s love of fast cars, cute dogs, and sad Milo Ventimiglia finally collide in this adaptation of Garth Stein’s bestselling novel about the ups and downs of an aspiring Formula One driver, as told by his golden retriever. The This Is Us star plays the rather shamelessly named Denny Swift, whose adopted pup Enzo harbors a surprisingly worldly wisdom—enhanced here by a craggy-voiced Kevin Costner narrating the dog’s deepest thoughts, dropping profound philosophical insights to be scooped up along the way. Amanda Seyfried joins in on the inevitable tearjerking as Denny’s wife.
Will it be worth your time? As evidenced by the recent A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Way Home, and A Dog’s Journey, America can’t get enough movies about plucky canines teaching their humans how to live and love, then dying. So if you’re a fan of that particular genre of cuddly grief, then seeing “from the studio that brought you Marley & Me” in the trailer is basically your Marvel banner.

Brian Banks

Theaters everywhere August 9

Following a debilitating accident, director Tom Shadyac famously renounced his career as a reliable crafter of comedy mush like Evan Almighty and The Nutty Professor, giving away most of his misbegotten fortunes and dedicating himself to more altruistic pursuits. His first narrative film in more than a decade follows that newfound higher purpose by tackling the true story of Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge), a high school football star whose NFL dreams were dashed after he was arrested on rape charges. Banks lost more than a decade to prison and probation before his accuser confessed she’d made the whole thing up and his conviction was overturned. Brian Banks tracks not only the legal efforts to exonerate him (led here by Greg Kinnear, these days in permanent “inspirational” mode), but Banks’ own attempts to make peace with the injustice visited upon him, aided by Morgan Freeman as the wise, old Morgan Freeman-type who counsels him in jail.
Will it be worth your time? Brian Banks took home the Audience Award at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, with many praising it as both surprisingly moving and unexpectedly nuanced—not words often associated with Shadyac’s work, or with stories of this ilk. Still, even the mostly glowing reviews noted the film’s uncomfortable timing, and that unease has only been amplified in its perhaps-inevitable embrace by gloating #MeToo detractors across the ugliest corners of the comment-sphere. It remains to be seen whether Brian Banks will contribute to that ongoing national dialogue, or just make it noisier.

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Select theaters August 9

Billed as “a modern Mark Twain-style adventure story,” The Peanut Butter Falcon is a road movie about Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome who escapes from his group home in hopes of attending a pro-wrestling camp run by his idol, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Along the way, Zak meets whiskey-swilling scumbag Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), who takes a liking to him and offers to escort him to the camp, with nursing home worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) following close behind.
Will it be worth your time? Making movies about characters with Down syndrome can be tricky, but The Peanut Butter Falcon was reportedly written for lead actor Gottsagen, who writer-directors Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson met at an acting camp for people with disabilities. According to early reviews, Gottsagen’s input adds an extra layer of authenticity and heart to the film, which won the Audience Award at this year’s SXSW.

After The Wedding

Select theaters August 9

Writer-director Bart Freundlich, perhaps best known as Mr. Julianne Moore, adapts Susanne Bier’s Danish film of the same name, casting his Oscar-winning spouse as Theresa Young, a millionaire who orphanage worker Isabel (Michelle Williams) must pursue for a crucial donation. Isabel winds up attending the wedding of Theresa’s daughter, where there’s some spilling of secrets, some possibly involving Theresa’s husband, Oscar (Billy Crudup). This is a gender flip of the original film, where both the orphanage worker and the potential benefactor were men.
Will it be worth your time? Freundlich always recruits a terrific stable of actors, but that hasn’t always helped the clunky writing in a movie like, say, Trust The Man (also featuring Moore and Crudup). Reviews out of this one’s Sundance premiere suggest a movie that honors the intentions of Bier’s original without much emotional impact.

One Child Nation

Select theaters August 9

Enacted from 1979 to 2015, China’s one-child policy is the stuff of both legend and nightmare: For 35 years, the country’s government used punitive fines, forced contraception, and mandatory sterilization in an effort to curb what was then seen as a potentially overwhelming population crisis. Jialing Zhang and Nanfu Wang’s new documentary, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, attempts to chart the massive human effect of this expression of overwhelming governmental reach, talking to midwives, family planning officials, and parents, all still coping with the after-effects of a policy that stretched its hand into the very heart of their homes.
Will it be worth our time? At a tight 85 minutes, One Child Nation has a massive amount of fascinating, dispiriting ground to cover, from the policy’s effect on Stateside adoption and child-trafficking, to widespread acceptance of propaganda supporting it within China’s borders, to a conversation with a midwife who estimates that she performed roughly 50,000 abortions during the period that the law covered. And yet reviews out of Sundance suggest that Zhang and Wang have performed an extremely deft balancing act, threading plots together without losing sight of either the wider societal issues or the very human stories they’ve aimed to tell.

The Angry Birds Movie 2

Theaters everywhere August 14

The Angry Birds Movie already boasted an enormously impressive roster of voice-acting comic ringers for such a thoroughly terrible movie, so what can the sequel do but attempt to swell those ranks further? Returning performers Jason Sudeikis, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Peter Dinklage, and Josh Gad have been joined by Leslie Jones, Rachel Bloom, Zach Woods, Lil Rel Howery, Pete Davidson, Tiffany Haddish, Beck Bennett, and Sterling K. Brown. For anyone keeping track, this will be the third animated sequel of 2019 featuring Haddish, who has already appeared in Lego Movie 2 and Secret Life Of Pets 2; it’s almost as if the creative bankruptcy of contemporary big-studio animation has extended even to the casting stage.
Will it be worth your time? Based on the first film, parents might be better-served by spending 90 minutes brainstorming ways to keep the existence of this movie a secret from their children.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Theaters everywhere August 16

Maria Semple’s novel about the disappearance of an architect and family woman from her Seattle home seems like a strong candidate for cinematic adaptation, given its fully realized characters, frequent plot turns, scope that includes a trip to Antarctica, and lightly satirical sensibility, all springing from the pen of an Arrested Development writer. But this is a mostly epistolary book that’s more amusing than fall-down hilarious, so it also presents significant tonal and logistical challenges for director Richard Linklater, who also co-wrote the screenplay with two other writers. At the very least, its casting seems spot-on, with Cate Blanchett playing the frustrated, agoraphobic Bernadette, Billy Crudup as her befuddled husband, Elgin, and Kristen Wiig as her semi-nemesis. Newcomer Emma Nelson plays their daughter, the amateur detective who attempts to find the wayward Bernadette.
Will it be worth your time? Thanks to its hopscotching, ever-shifting release date, Bernadette has taken on the aura of a troubled production, and it’s certainly easy to picture Semple’s book turned into something cutesy, cartoonish, or muddled. But given Linklater’s involvement, it’s entirely possible that the repeated delays have more to do with the puzzle of how to sell a mainstream but decidedly human-scaled story to an audience that gives most of its moviegoing dollars over to Disney.

Good Boys

Theaters everywhere August 16

With the movies having long inured us to uptight teens growing up fast over one crazy night of sex, drugs, and heart-to-hearts, Good Boys takes that indomitable comic premise all the way back to middle school. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg lend their producers’ imprint to this tween-aged riff on their own Superbad, which follows three sixth-grade boys (played by Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, and Keith L. Williams) who embark on a series of wacky misadventures around a quest to attend a “kissing party” and a pilfered bottle of MDMA. Age-inappropriate F-bombs are dropped, anal beads are innocently misappropriated, and everyone learns a heartwarming and universal lesson about friendship, and how it’s fucking hard and shit.
Will it be worth your time? In a post-South Park world, foulmouthed kids just don’t shock the way they used to, and those who caught Good Boys at SXSW confirm that the premise wears a bit thin. Still, there’s probably a few laughs to be had in seeing them navigate timely adult concepts amid all the goofing around in sex swings.

Blinded By The Light

Theaters everywhere August 16

Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Beckham and Bride & Prejudice, returns with a new cross-cultural story, about Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British teenager of Pakistani descent who becomes enamored with American rock music—specifically, the working-class poetry of Bruce Springsteen. (The movie is set in 1987, but there’s little indication from the trailers that the characters are galvanized by the release of Tunnel Of Love.) Springsteen’s work lights an artistic fire under Javed, who is based on real-life journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who helped adapt the screenplay from his memoir. Between this and Yesterday, it seems like 2019 might be the year of the fandom-tribute semi-musical.
Will it be worth your time? Reviews out of Sundance were glowing, suggesting a more nuanced and delightful movie than what the hooky but slightly cornball trailer appears to advertise.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

Theaters everywhere August 16

In 47 Meters Down, two scuba divers observing sharks from a cage must fight for their lives when the cage falls to the ocean floor and traps them in the watery, shark-infested depths. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged asks the fascinating question: What if this time, no cage? A group of girls go scuba-diving in ocean ruins, only to find that while the underwater city they’re exploring may be abandoned by humans, its shark population is quite healthy, and hungry. Director Johannes Roberts returns; major characters from the first film do not, as this appears to be a relatively standalone horror thriller that happens to boast the internationally beloved 47 Meters Down brand.
Will it be worth your time? 47 Meters Down was already noticeably inferior to the similarly stripped-down shark thriller The Shallows; maybe now it’s the sequel’s turn to get shown up by this year’s Shallows, the killer-alligator picture Crawl.

The Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary

Select theaters August 16 

Anyone who devoured episodes of Comic Strip Live or Short Attention Span Theater during the ’80s stand-up boom will surely remember The Amazing Johnathan, né John Szeles, who reliably broke the monotony of marriage jokes and Jack Nicholson impressions with his bag of gonzo magic tricks, like shoving skewers through his tongue or popping out his own eyeball. After more than a decade of Letterman slots and headlining Vegas gigs, the self-described “Freddy Krueger of comedy” revealed in 2014 that he’d been diagnosed with a heart condition that had left him with only a year to live. Ben Berman’s documentary picks up there, ostensibly chronicling Szeles’ “farewell tour” that could very well end with him dying, especially since he refuses to give up meth, and musing on his legacy with talking heads like “Weird Al” Yankovic, Eric Andre, and Carrot Top. But all may not be as it initially seems.
Will it be worth your time? The Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary was one of the buzzier nonfiction entries to emerge from this year’s Sundance, not least for the way Berman’s film reportedly interrogates the slippery nature of these kinds of profiles, à la Exit Through The Gift Shop, Catfish, etc. Where it may come up short as a true biography, it promises to be an unpredictable, occasionally galling viewing experience—which is the best tribute Szeles could ask for.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

Select theaters August 16

Danish documentarian Mads Brügger is the nonfiction provocateur as gleeful prankster: He masqueraded as the head of a theater troupe in The Red Chapel, using the ruse to gain access to North Korean culture, and impersonated a diplomat in The Ambassador to shine a light on the diamond trade in Africa. But he dons no disguises in Cold Case Hammarskjöld, which tackles the half-a-century-old mystery of what really happened to Dag Hammarskjöld, one-time general secretary of the UN, who died in a rather suspicious plane crash in 1961.
Will it be worth your time? What Brügger uncovers, through his investigative research, is fascinating and disturbing—if, indeed, one can take it at face value. Cold Case Hammarskjöld raises the possibility that the filmmaker himself might get duped by a conspiracy theory, and that early warning could be a clue not to believe everything his interview subjects say. It’s a film for those who prefer their docs slippery and their mysteries unresolved.

Ready Or Not

Theaters everywhere August 21

In-laws can be a real pain. Still, even the most annoying weekend with a significant other’s parents has nothing on the ordeal faced by blushing bride Grace (Margot Robbie look-alike Samara Weaving), who becomes the unwilling participant in an unusually deadly game of hide-and-seek played by the wealthy relatives of her new husband (Mark O’Brien). Adam Brody, Andie MacDowell, and Henry Czerny round out the family of murderously mirthful aristocrats, making life stressful for their latest member.
Will it be worth your time? One of two death-game movies hitting theaters over the next few weeks (The Hunt, from Craig Zobel, comes out in September), Ready Or Not looks like twisted fun, judging from a trailer that plays up the dark comedy as much as the horror. Anyway, at the end of August, a few grim thrills and laughs is about the best you can hope for.

American Factory

Select theaters and Netflix August 21

Illustration for article titled Hobbs, Shaw, and some festival favorites vie for your attention during the dog days of August
Photo: Netflix

When a GM plant in Dayton, Ohio shuts down, a Chinese auto-glass company swoops in to take over the space, rehiring many of the laid-off workers. This documentary from directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert chronicles the birth and growing pains of this international manufacturing operation, including the conflict between the U.S. and Chinese employees, as well as what happens when the workforce considers unionizing.
Will it be worth your time? Though generally well-received at Sundance (it won the festival’s directing award for documentaries), American Factory did catch a few charges of xenophobia. In truth, it’s maybe too balanced, making the union-busting tactics of upper management look like a reasonable position. Either way, the film finds both comedy and drama in its portrait of corporate culture clash; as is often the case, a years-spanning filming commitment pays off.

Jacob’s Ladder

Theaters everywhere August 23

Adrian Lyne’s 1990 psychological thriller Jacob’s Ladder has risen over the years to the level of cult classic, celebrated for its what’s-real-and-what’s-not imagery and atmosphere of paranoid nightmare dread. So, of course, they went and bankrolled a remake, this one starring Michael Ealy in the Tim Robbins role as a war veteran who returns to life Stateside and is plagued by frightening visions of a demon world invading his own.
Will it be worth your time? Screenwriter Jeff Buhler, who penned this year’s Pet Sematary remake, insists that the new Jacob’s Ladder isn’t a carbon copy of the old one; the twist ending, for one, has allegedly been altered, and the plot seems to hinge more on Jacob’s relationship with his brother (Jesse Williams), a fellow vet. Still, the trailer suggests that the film’s hallucinatory scare tactics are more or less the same, making this appear to be another horror remake operating in the long shadow of its predecessor. (At least there’s a good chance a lot of the target demographic won’t have seen the original.)

Vita & Virginia

Select theaters August 23; VOD August 30

The heady and passionate love affair between novelist Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki) and her fellow writer and socialite Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) gets a beaded and damasked romantic adaptation. Based on Woolf and Sackville-West’s letters, Vita & Virginia follows the pair through the writing of Woolf’s classic novel Orlando, whose gender-bending main character was inspired by the brazenly individualistic Sackville-West.
Will it be worth your time? Finally coming out in theaters almost a year after its debut at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Vita & Virginia has been described as a pretty conventional period piece—an ironic designation, given its subjects’ proudly unconventional lives. That being said, is there such a thing as too much Elizabeth Debicki?

Don’t Let Go

Theaters everywhere August 30

Don’t Let Go was originally titled Relive when it played this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it received reviews split on whether it fully capitalizes on its sci-fi premise: A cop (David Oyelowo) is somehow able to receive a phone call from his niece (Storm Reid) two weeks in the past before she, her dad (Brian Tyree Henry), and her mom were all murdered. The detective attempts to use this unexpected lifeline with his niece to save the whole family. At the very least, this a novel twist on the vengeful this-time-it’s-personal cop mystery.
Will it be worth your time? Those aforementioned reviews aren’t especially promising, but after a summer full of disappointing blockbusters, even a middling low-tech sci-fi potboiler might hit the spot on Labor Day weekend.

Official Secrets

Select theaters August 30

The career of director Gavin Hood (Rendition, Eye In The Sky) has flitted in and out of the political thriller wheelhouse for years—including, notably, through an attempt to position his X-Men Origins: Wolverine as a claw-handed response to Bush-era politics. Hood may have found a more convincing hero, though, in former British intelligence translator Katharine Gun, who sacrificed her career (and potentially her freedom) in order to whistleblow on U.S. efforts to influence the UN’s 2003 vote to invade Iraq. Keira Knightley offers up her services as Gun’s cinematic stand-in, while Ralph Fiennes is the legal adviser attempting to get her out from under accusations of violating the Official Secrets Act.
Will it be worth our time? It’s going to depend largely on your tolerance for Knightley looking noble and steely at the camera while weathering accusations of dastardly treason. (Which, given her extensive talents as a performer, could easily be quite high.) Reviews from the film’s various festival appearances average out to a slightly yawning nod of approval; although there’s been praise for Knightley and the journalists she leaks to (including Matt Smith and Varys himself, Conleth Hill), ultimately, a legal drama centered on a trial that ended up being dropped after roughly half an hour in court may not exactly translate into a nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat affair.

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